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Title: A Modest Proposal 

For preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, 

from being a burden on their parents or country, and for 
making them beneficial to the publick - 1729 

Author: Jonathan Swift 

Release Date: July 27, 2008 [EBook #1080] 

Language: English 

Character set encoding: ASCII 

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Produced by An Anonymous Volunteer, and David Widger 



A MODEST PROPOSAL 

For preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, 

from being a burden on their parents or country, 

and for making them beneficial to the publick. 



by Dr. Jonathan Swift 



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8/8/12 A Modest Proposal, by Dr. Jonathan Swift 

1729 



It is a melancholy object to those, who walk 
through this great town, or travel in the country, when 
they see the streets, the roads and cabbin-doors 
crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by 
three, four, or six children, all in rags, and importuning 
every passenger for an alms. These mothers instead of 
being able to work for their honest livelihood, are 
forced to employ all their time in stroling to beg 
sustenance for their helpless infants who, as they grow 
up, either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their 
dear native country, to fight for the Pretender in Spain, 
or sell themselves to the Barb ado es. 

I think it is agreed by all parties, that this prodigious 
number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at 
the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their 
fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the 
kingdom, a very great additional grievance; and 
therefore whoever could find out a fair, cheap and 
easy method of making these children sound and 
useful members of the common-wealth, would deserve 
so well of the pub lick, as to have his statue set up for 
a preserver of the nation. 

But my intention is very far from being confined to 
provide only for the children of professed beggars: it 
is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the whole 
number of infants at a certain age, who are born of 
parents in effect as little able to support them, as those 
who demand our charily in the streets. 

As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for 
many years, upon this important subject, and maturely 
weighed the several schemes of our projectors, I have 
always found them grossly mistaken in their 

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8/8/12 A Modest Proposal, by Dr. Jonathan Swift 

computation. It is true, a child just dropt from its dam, 
may be supported by her milk, for a solar year, with 
little other nourishment: at most not above the value of 
two shillings, which the mother may certainly get, or 
the value in scraps, by her lawful occupation of 
begging; and it is exactly at one year old that I 
propose to provide for them in such a manner, as, 
instead of being a charge upon their parents, or the 
parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of 
their lives, they shall, on the contrary, contribute to the 
feeding, and partly to the c loathing of many 
thousands. 

There is likewise another great advantage in my 
scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, 
and that horrid practice of women murdering their 
bastard children, alas! too frequent among us, 
sacrificing the poor innocent babes, I doubt, more to 
avoid the expence than the shame, which would move 
tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast. 

The number of souls in this kingdom being usually 
reckoned one million and a half, of these I calculate 
there may be about two hundred thousand couple 
whose wives are breeders; from which number I 
subtract thirty thousand couple, who are able to 
maintain their own children, (although I apprehend 
there cannot be so many, under the present distresses 
of the kingdom) but this being granted, there will 
remain an hundred and seventy thousand breeders. I 
again subtract fifty thousand, for those women who 
miscarry, or whose children die by accident or disease 
within the year. There only remain an hundred and 
twenty thousand children of poor parents annually 
born. The question therefore is, How this number shall 
be reared, and provided for? which, as I have already 
said, under the present situation of affairs, is utterly 
impossible by all the methods hitherto proposed. For 
we can neither employ them in handicraft or 
agriculture; we neither build houses, (I mean in the 
country) nor cultivate land: they can very seldom pick 
up a livelihood by stealing till they arrive at six years 

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8/8/12 A Modest Proposal, by Dr. Jonathan Swift 

old; except where they are of towardly parts, although 
I confess they learn the rudiments much earlier; during 
which time they can however be properly looked upon 
only as probationers: As I have been informed by a 
principal gentleman in the county of Cavan, who 
protested to me, that he never knew above one or two 
instances under the age of six, even in a part of the 
kingdom so renowned for the quickest proficiency in 
that art. 

I am assured by our merchants, that a boy or a girl 
before twelve years old, is no saleable commodity, 
and even when they come to this age, they will not 
yield above three pounds, or three pounds and half a 
crown at most, on the exchange; which cannot turn to 
account either to the parents or kingdom, the charge 
of nutriments and rags having been at least four times 
that value. 

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own 
thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least 
objection. 

I have been assured by a very knowing American of 
my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child 
well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious 
nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, 
roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it 
will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust. 

I do therefore humbly offer it to publick 
consideration, that of the hundred and twenty 
thousand children, already computed, twenty thousand 
may be reserved for breed, whereof only one fourth 
part to be males; which is more than we allow to 
sheep, black cattle, or swine, and my reason is, that 
these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a 
circumstance not much regarded by our savages, 
therefore, one male will be sufficient to serve four 
females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at 
a year old, be offered in sale to the persons of quality 
and fortune, through the kingdom, always advising the 
mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so 

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8/8/12 A Modest Proposal, by Dr. Jonathan Swift 

as to render them plump, and fat for a good table. A 
child will make two dishes at an entertainment for 
friends, and when the family dines alone, the fore or 
hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned 
with a little pepper or salt, will be very good boiled on 
the fourth day, especially in winter. 

I have reckoned upon a medium, that a child just 
born will weigh 12 pounds, and in a solar year, if 
tolerably nursed, encreaseth to 28 pounds. 

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and 
therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have 
already devoured most of the parents, seem to have 
the best title to the children. 

Infant's flesh will be in season throughout the year, 
but more plentiful in March, and a little before and 
after; for we are told by a grave author, an eminent 
French physician, that fish being a prolifick dyet, there 
are more children born in Roman Catholick countries 
about nine months after Lent, the markets will be more 
glutted than usual, because the number of Popish 
infants, is at least three to one in this kingdom, and 
therefore it will have one other collateral advantage, by 
lessening the number of Papists among us. 

I have already computed the charge of nursing a 
beggar's child (in which list I reckon all cottagers, 
labourers, and four-fifths of the farmers) to be about 
two shillings per annum, rags included; and I believe 
no gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the 
carcass of a good fat child, which, as I have said, will 
make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat, when he 
hath only some particular friend, or his own family to 
dine with him. Thus the squire will learn to be a good 
landlord, and grow popular among his tenants, the 
mother will have eight shillings neat profit, and be fit 
for work till she produces another child. 

Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the 
times require) may flea the carcass; the skin of which, 
artificially dressed, will make admirable gloves for 

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8/8/12 A Modest Proposal, by Dr. Jonathan Swift 

ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen. 

As to our City of Dublin, shambles may be 
appointed for this purpose, in the most convenient 
parts of it, and butchers we may be assured will not be 
wanting; although I rather recommend buying the 
children alive, and dressing them hot from the knife, as 
we do roasting pigs. 

A very worthy person, a true lover of his country, 
and whose virtues I highly esteem, was lately pleased, 
in discoursing on this matter, to offer a refinement 
upon my scheme. He said, that many gentlemen of this 
kingdom, having of late destroyed their deer, he 
conceived that the want of venison might be well 
supply'd by the bodies of young lads and maidens, 
not exceeding fourteen years of age, nor under twelve; 
so great a number of both sexes in every country 
being now ready to starve for want of work and 
service: And these to be disposed of by their parents 
if alive, or otherwise by their nearest relations. But with 
due deference to so excellent a friend, and so 
deserving a patriot, I cannot be altogether in his 
sentiments; for as to the males, my American 
acquaintance assured me from frequent experience, 
that their flesh was generally tough and lean, like that 
of our school-boys, by continual exercise, and their 
taste disagreeable, and to fatten them would not 
answer the charge. Then as to the females, it would, I 
think, with humble submission, be a loss to the 
publick, because they soon would become breeders 
themselves: And besides, it is not improbable that 
some scrupulous people might be apt to censure such 
a practice, (although indeed very unjustly) as a little 
bordering upon cruelty, which, I confess, hath always 
been with me the strongest objection against any 
project, how well soever intended. 

But in order to justify my friend, he confessed, that 
this expedient was put into his head by the famous 
Salmanaazor, a native of the island Formosa, who 
came from thence to London, above twenty years ago, 

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8/8/12 A Modest Proposal, by Dr. Jonathan Swift 

and in conversation told my friend, that in his country, 
when any young person happened to be put to death, 
the executioner sold the carcass to persons of quality, 
as a prime dainty; and that, in his time, the body of a 
plump girl of fifteen, who was crucified for an attempt 
to poison the Emperor, was sold to his imperial 
majesty's prime minister of state, and other great 
mandarins of the court in joints from the gibbet, at 
four hundred crowns. Neither indeed can I deny, that 
if the same use were made of several plump young 
girls in this town, who without one single groat to their 
fortunes, cannot stir abroad without a chair, and 
appear at a play-house and assemblies in foreign 
fineries which they never will pay for; the kingdom 
would not be the worse. 

Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great 
concern about that vast number of poor people, who 
are aged, diseased, or maimed; and I have been 
desired to employ my thoughts what course may be 
taken, to ease the nation of so grievous an 
incumbrance. But I am not in the least pain upon that 
matter, because it is very well known, that they are 
every day dying, and rotting, by cold and famine, and 
filth, and vermin, as fast as can be reasonably 
expected. And as to the young labourers, they are now 
in almost as hopeful a condition. They cannot get 
work, and consequently pine away from want of 
nourishment, to a degree, that if at any time they are 
accidentally hired to common labour, they have not 
strength to perform it, and thus the country and 
themselves are happily delivered from the evils to 
come. 

I have too long digressed, and therefore shall return 
to my subject. I think the advantages by the proposal 
which I have made are obvious and many, as well as 
of the highest importance. 

For first, as I have already observed, it would 
greatly lessen the number of Papists, with whom we 
are yearly over-run, being the principal breeders of the 

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8/8/12 A Modest Proposal, by Dr. Jonathan Swift 

nation, as well as our most dangerous enemies, and 
who stay at home on purpose with a design to deliver 
the kingdom to the Pretender, hoping to take their 
advantage by the absence of so many good 
Protestants, who have chosen rather to leave their 
country, than stay at home and pay tithes against their 
conscience to an episcopal curate. 

Secondly, The poorer tenants will have something 
valuable of their own, which by law may be made 
liable to a distress, and help to pay their landlord's 
rent, their corn and cattle being already seized, and 
money a thing unknown. 

Thirdly, Whereas the maintainance of an hundred 
thousand children, from two years old, and upwards, 
cannot be computed at less than ten shillings a piece 
per annum, the nation's stock will be thereby 
encreased fifty thousand pounds per annum, besides 
the profit of a new dish, introduced to the tables of all 
gentlemen of fortune in the kingdom, who have any 
refinement in taste. And the money will circulate 
among our selves, the goods being entirely of our own 
growth and manufacture. 

Fourthly, The constant breeders, besides the gain of 
eight shillings sterling per annum by the sale of their 
children, will be rid of the charge of maintaining them 
after the first year. 

Fifthly, This food would likewise bring great 
custom to taverns, where the vintners will certainly be 
so prudent as to procure the best receipts for dressing 
it to perfection; and consequently have their houses 
frequented by all the fine gentlemen, who justly value 
themselves upon their knowledge in good eating; and a 
skilful cook, who understands how to oblige his 
guests, will contrive to make it as expensive as they 
please. 

Sixthly, This would be a great inducement to 
marriage, which all wise nations have either 
encouraged by rewards, or enforced by laws and 

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8/8/12 A Modest Proposal, by Dr. Jonathan Swift 

penalties. It would encrease the care and tenderness of 
mothers towards their children, when they were sure 
of a settlement for life to the poor babes, provided in 
some sort by the pub lick, to their annual profit instead 
of expence. We should soon see an honest emulation 
among the married women, which of them could bring 
the fattest child to the market. Men would become as 
fond of their wives, during the time of their pregnancy, 
as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows in 
calf, or sow when they are ready to farrow; nor offer 
to beat or kick them (as is too frequent a practice) for 
fear of a miscarriage. 

Many other advantages might be enumerated. For 
instance, the addition of some thousand carcasses in 
our exportation of barrel'd beef: the propagation of 
swine's flesh, and improvement in the art of making 
good bacon, so much wanted among us by the great 
destruction of pigs, too frequent at our tables; which 
are no way comparable in taste or magnificence to a 
well grown, fat yearly child, which roasted whole will 
make a considerable figure at a Lord Mayor's feast, or 
any other publick entertainment. But this, and many 
others, I omit, being studious of brevity. 

Supposing that one thousand families in this city, 
would be constant customers for infants flesh, besides 
others who might have it at merry meetings, 
particularly at weddings and christenings, I compute 
that Dublin would take off annually about twenty 
thousand carcasses; and the rest of the kingdom 
(where probably they will be sold somewhat cheaper) 
the remaining eighty thousand. 

I can think of no one objection, that will possibly be 
raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged, 
that the number of people will be thereby much 
lessened in the kingdom. This I freely own, and 'twas 
indeed one principal design in offering it to the world. 
I desire the reader will observe, that I calculate my 
remedy for this one individual Kingdom of Ireland, 
and for no other that ever was, is, or, I think, ever can 

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8/8/12 A Modest Proposal, by Dr. Jonathan Swift 

be upon Earth. Therefore let no man talk to me of 
other expedients: Of taxing our absentees at five 
shillings a pound: Of using neither cloaths, nor 
houshold furniture, except what is of our own growth 
and manufacture: Of utterly rejecting the materials and 
instruments that promote foreign luxury: Of curing the 
expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in 
our women: Of introducing a vein of parsimony, 
prudence and temperance: Of learning to love our 
country, wherein we differ even from Laplanders, and 
the inhabitants of Topinamboo: Of quitting our 
animosities and factions, nor acting any longer like the 
Jews, who were murdering one another at the very 
moment their city was taken: Of being a little cautious 
not to sell our country and consciences for nothing: 
Of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of 
mercy towards their tenants. Lastly, of putting a spirit 
of honesty, industry, and skill into our shop-keepers, 
who, if a resolution could now be taken to buy only 
our native goods, would immediately unite to cheat 
and exact upon us in the price, the measure, and the 
goodness, nor could ever yet be brought to make one 
fair proposal of just dealing, though often and 
earnestly invited to it. 

Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these 
and the like expedients, 'till he hath at least some 
glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty 
and sincere attempt to put them into practice. 

But, as to my self, having been wearied out for 
many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, 
and at length utterly despairing of success, I 
fortunately fell upon this proposal, which, as it is 
wholly new, so it hath something solid and real, of no 
expence and little trouble, full in our own power, and 
whereby we can incur no danger in disobliging 
England. For this kind of commodity will not bear 
exportation, and flesh being of too tender a 
consistence, to admit a long continuance in salt, 
although perhaps I could name a country, which 
would be glad to eat up our whole nation without it. 

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8/8/12 A Modest Proposal, by Dr. Jonathan Swift 

After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own 
opinion, as to reject any offer, proposed by wise men, 
which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, 
and effectual. But before something of that kind shall 
be advanced in contradiction to my scheme, and 
offering a better, I desire the author or authors will be 
pleased maturely to consider two points. First, As 
things now stand, how they will be able to find food 
and raiment for a hundred thousand useless mouths 
and backs. And secondly, There being a round million 
of creatures in humane figure throughout this kingdom, 
whose whole subsistence put into a common stock, 
would leave them in debt two million of pounds 
sterling, adding those who are beggars by profession, 
to the bulk of farmers, cottagers and labourers, with 
their wives and children, who are beggars in effect; I 
desire those politicians who dislike my overture, and 
may perhaps be so bold to attempt an answer, that 
they will first ask the parents of these mortals, whether 
they would not at this day think it a great happiness to 
have been sold for food at a year old, in the manner I 
prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual 
scene of misfortunes, as they have since gone through, 
by the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of 
paying rent without money or trade, the want of 
common sustenance, with neither house nor cloaths to 
cover them from the inclemencies of the weather, and 
the most inevitable prospect of intailing the like, or 
greater miseries, upon their breed for ever. 

I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have 
not the least personal interest in endeavouring to 
promote this necessary work, having no other motive 
than the publick good of my country, by advancing 
our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and 
giving some pleasure to the rich. I have no children, by 
which I can propose to get a single penny; the 
youngest being nine years old, and my wife past child- 
bearing. 



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8/8/12 A Modest Proposal, by Dr. Jonathan Swift 



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